The speaking agenda

by senorcordero

Speaking was one of the things I loved most about learning a language. I loved the feeling of success that I got when I was able successfully decode a message asked by a more proficient speaker, followed by carefully stringing together my response – thinking about the correct tense, endings and nuance of each word I chose to make up the sentence. Being understood made me feel liberated; realising I could actually put the language to a purposeful use and seeing the end result of rote learning many tenses, lexical items and structures. With speaking having been put somewhat on the back burner by the rollout of the speaking endorsement and the various limitations of remote learning; here are some ideas that I use to practise speaking in the classroom. In this post, I will look at some activities that can help with evidence gathering for the different parts of the endorsement, as well as practise GCSE speaking skills and promote classroom speaking in general.

Before starting with any activities – start with some tactical seating. 

So often seating plans are made so as to lend themselves to behaviour management – and by no means am I arguing against this; however, seating plan construction can really aid create a culture of productive speaking practice in the classroom. When creating your seating plan, think about those who need to be placed in certain locations within the classroom due to eyesight or behaviour needs first; then think about parings who would work together well and feel comfortable speaking with one another based on personality and prior attainment. After all, feeling comfortable with a person you are going to do a lot of paired work with will lend itself to building confidence, which is needed when undoubtably students will be making mistakes and feeling more exposed due to speaking in the target language. However, this feeling comfortable and student pairings should never come at compromise of your control over the classroom. 

Classroom ideas for practising speaking

Practising vocabulary and giving opinions

After a lot of drilling, I like students to further practise the vocabulary in pairs – especially in lower attaining groups. In order to do this, I will display the vocabulary on the board. Partner A picks a word or a phrase and writes on a mini whiteboard, and Partner B gets 3 goes at guessing the item that their partner has chosen before revealing it.

The vocabulary guessing game works with any set of new vocabulary so long as you list it and set it out for students

When Partner B begins guessing, they must start their answer with: pienso que es… (I think it is) diría que es… (I would say it is) creo que es… (I believe it is) me parece que es… (it seems to me that it is) in order to introduce their opinion of what word their partner has chosen. When Partner A hears this, they must respond in a full sentence, saying: sí, es (yes it is…) or no es… (it isn’t…). Nothing groundbreaking but a nice way to get some speaking and get around the room to check some pronunciation

Tú-ing and yo-ing.

I am a big believer in training students to manipulate bullet points from the second person to the first person – not just for relevance when giving a spoken response but also for starting answers to bullet points provided for the 90-word and 150-word written tasks. To start this training, I start by a process I call ‘tú-ing and yo-ing’. In this oral self-quizzing form, I give students a list of verbs in tenses they have met in a table. The first column is for the second-person singular form of the verb; the second column is for the first-person singular form of the verb. I each partner with a different sheet of verbs. Their partner peer assesses, marking those correct that are formed correctly; and for those that are not, they provide their partner with the correct form, and retest later on. You can also use it as a settling do-now activity in a written format by providing one of the forms, and removing its counterpart.  

Tú-ing and yo-ing training sheet. Each partner gets a different sheet and quizzes their partner, ticking the correct answers and providing the answers for incorrect answers – before retesting.

Photo card preparation scaffolds

One of the most difficult things to get students to do when dealing with the photo card is to unpick what it is the question wants of the student, then reply with a relevant answer. Building on the above tú-ing and yo-ing, this photo card scaffold helps students to: 1) identify what each question means; 2) manipulate the points into the first person so that they are being relevant when giving their answer and 3) ensure that they give extended response by giving three sentences. The final checklist also gets students to check back to see they’ve included opinions and justifications. AQA specify that in the photo card section, in order to be considered for full marks, students should: answer all 5 points; give 3 sentences per point for 3 of the 5 points; give 2 opinions and 2 justifications. This scaffold helps to ensure students do this. The important thing; however, is the embedding of this once the stablisers of a scaffold are taken away!

Photo card scaffold to help set students up to: be relevant, extend discourse as well as give and justify opinions

What? When? Where? With whom? 

In this activity, I give students a list of sentence starters that are basic activities with verbs – such as I play football. Partner A picks a sentence starter, and reads it aloud. Partner B then asks when? To which Partner A must reply by stating the sentence again and adding when they play football. After this, Partner B will then ask where? And Partner A must give the previous answer containing what and when, and then add where to it. Finally, Partner B would ask with whom? To which Partner A will give the what, when and where; before adding with whom. When students are more confident orally manipulating verbs, I ask Partner B to ask the full sentence question. The dialogue looks something like the below: 

Partner ANadoI swim.
Partner B¿Cuándo nadas?When do you swim?
Partner ANado todos los días.I swim everyday.
Partner B¿Dónde nadas? Where do you swim?
Partner ANado todos los días en la piscina.I swim every day in the swimming pool.
Partner B¿Con quién nadas? Who do you swim with?
Partner ANado todos los días en la piscina con mis amigas.I swim every day in the swimming pool with my friends
A sample dialogue practising what? when? where? with whom?

As simple as it looks, it gets students used to asking questions as well as developing answers. It is something very easy to implement, and can be done from right back in year 7 if they are trained to do this.

But why?

Why is one of my absolute favourite words. The number of times that students give a statement of an opinion and do not tell me why is unreal – even my A Level class fall into this trap. A simple turning around and asking why elicits students to give a justification of an action or an opinion, and is something we are readily permitted to do in the general conversation section of the GCSE speaking exam – so why not demonstrate some spontaneity and challenge with minimal effort by asking why! 

LOTS of good stuff

Everyone has their own acronyms – PALMA, avocados amongst others. One that is simple to remember and works well for me when students are practising speaking or writing is LOTS. It’s the only acronym I use but for the purposes of variety, extensions and giving opinions, it works well. LOTS stands for: linking words, opinions, time frames and structures. I get students to write it down large in their books and give 2 minutes to put down as many examples for each of the categories as they can. After the 2 minutes, they take a different colour of pen and pair up to combine answers and add any that they have missed off. We then come back together and share the best responses, which everyone must ensure that they have on their diagrams. This aids speaking as after doing an initial speaking activity, we turn to LOTS to redo our activity in order improve and extend our responses.

LOTS diagram that can be referred to after practising speaking in order to improve discourse length and include opinions.

Asking questions

This was an idea I found somewhere online – and whoever it was – thank you! Essentially it is a board game that involves students asking questions about the vocabulary items mentioned in the box – in order to simulate the question element of the role-play based as a snakes and ladders-style game. On the reverse, I put some model answers that students can refer to if they get stuck.

The questions board game. Works well in pairs or groups of 4 or less. On the back, for each of the stimulus items, I provide a model students can turn to if they get stuck.

Role-play scaffold

In the same way as we need to scaffold students for the photo card – we need to provide support for students when they prepare their initial role-plays. This role play scaffold allows students to do this by: asking students to translate the points into English; unpick what the bullet points want students to actually do (as these can sometimes be very ambiguous!) before writing their own version

The role-play scaffold is designed to get students to think about the ‘what does the bullet want me to actually say’ – which can often be ambiguous due to the design of the role-play tasks.

Role-play practice sheets

As with any scaffold, students will not be able to access these in the real exam. As is such, when the time comes to take off the stabilisers, in order to get students to prepare and practise in pairs, I devised the below role-play practice sheets.

Students fold the sheet in half. One student has the script (examiner) and the other student has the points to prepare

I give pairs of students two different role-plays at a time. Partner A prepares a different role-play to Partner B and they both prepare at the same time. Allow students the 5-6 minutes they would have in the real exam to prepare. Once time is up, they answer the role-plays and peer assess the answers given, using my guide of what should be said and a mark scheme to help.

Photo card practice sheets

In the same way as I have role-play practice sheets, I have devised a similar practice sheet for the photo card in order to get students to practise the unpredictable element. Each pair has 2 different photo cards that are foldable. I award the same time as they should ideally use in the exam (7/8 minutes to prepare) before getting students to practise in pairs.

These are by no means quick fixes, but are some ideas of what I do to practise speaking in the classroom and intertwine it with what is needed for the GCSE exam. In terms of 2021 Speaking Endorsement, these activities can all provide evidence – from the practising vocabulary guessing game providing evidence for pronunciation, to photo cards providing the opportunity for extended discourse and opinions/justifications.